Stan Lee, who as chief writer and editor of Marvel Comics helped create some of the most enduring superheroes of the 20th century and was a major force behind the breakout successes of the comic-book industry in the 1960s and early ’70s, died on Monday in Los Angeles. He was 95.
His death, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, was confirmed by Kirk Schenck, a lawyer for Mr. Lee’s daughter, J. C. Lee.
Mr. Lee was for many the embodiment of Marvel, if not comic books in general, and oversaw his company’s emergence as an international media behemoth. A writer, editor, publisher, Hollywood executive and tireless promoter (of Marvel and of himself), he played a critical role in what comics fans call the medium’s silver age.
Many believe that Marvel, under his leadership and infused with his colorful voice, crystallized that era, one of exploding sales, increasingly complex characters and stories, and growing cultural legitimacy for the medium. (Marvel’s chief competitor at the time, National Periodical Publications, now known as DC — the home of Superman and Batman, among countless other characters — augured the silver age, but did not define it, with its 1956 update of its superhero the Flash.)
Mr. Lee was a central player in the creation of Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor and the many other superheroes who, as properties of Marvel Comics, now occupy vast swaths of the pop culture landscape in movies and on television.
Under Mr. Lee, Marvel revolutionized the comic book world by imbuing its characters with the self-doubts and neuroses of average people, as well an awareness of trends and social causes and, often, a sense of humor.
In humanizing his heroes, giving them character flaws and insecurities that belied their supernatural strengths, Mr. Lee tried “to make them real flesh-and-blood characters with personality,” he told The Washington Post in 1992.
“That’s what any story should have, but comics didn’t have until that point,” he said. “They were all cardboard figures.”
Energetic, gregarious, optimistic and alternately grandiose and self-effacing, Mr. Lee was an effective salesman, employing a Barnumesque syntax in print (“Face front, true believer!” “Make mine Marvel!”) to market Marvel’s products to a rabid following.
Aretha Franklin, whose gospel-rooted singing and bluesy yet expansive delivery earned her the title “the Queen of Soul,” has died, a family statement said Thursday. She was 76.
Franklin died at 9:50 a.m. at her home in Detroit, surrounded by family and friends, according to a statement on behalf of Franklin’s family from her longtime publicist Gwendolyn Quinn.
The “official cause of death was due to advance pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, which was confirmed by Franklin’s oncologist, Dr. Philip Phillips of Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit,” the family statement said.
The singer had been reported to be in failing health for years and appeared frail in recent photos, but she kept her struggles private. In February 2017, Franklin announced she would stop touring, but she continued to book concerts. Earlier this year, she canceled a pair of performances, including at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, on doctor’s orders, according to Rolling Stone.
The singer’s final public performance was last November, when she sang at an Elton John AIDS Foundation gala in New York.
Over the course of a professional career that spanned more than half a century, Franklin’s songs not only topped the charts but became part of the vernacular.
She made “Respect,” written by Otis Redding, a call to arms. “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” a Carole King song, was an earthy expression of sexuality. “Think,” which she wrote with her then-husband, Ted White, became a rallying cry for women fed up with loutish men.
The first woman admitted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she had 88 Billboard chart hits during the rock era, tops among female vocalists. At the peak of her career — from 1967 to 1975 — she had more than two dozen Top 40 hits.
“Aretha Franklin is not only the definitive female soul singer of the Sixties,” according to her Rolling Stone biography, “she’s also one of the most influential and important voices in pop history.”
She won 18 Grammy awards, including the honor for best female R&B performance for eight straight years.
Adam West, who donned a cape, cowl and tights to became an overnight sensation in 1966 as the star of the campy “Batman” TV series, has died, according to a family statement. He was 88.
West, who later lamented being typecast as the iconic Caped Crusader but eventually embraced having been part of American pop culture, died Friday in Los Angeles after a short battle with leukemia, according to multiple reports.
A former Warner Bros. contract player, West was appearing in TV commercials in the mid-1960s to help pay the rent. But several commercials he did for Nestle’s Quik chocolate powder — parodies of the popular James Bond movies in which West played a dry-witted character called Captain Q — had an unexpected outcome.
They caught the attention of 20th Century Fox TV producer William Dozier, who was looking for someone to star as Gotham City millionaire Bruce Wayne and his crime-fighting alter-ego, Batman, in a farcical new series for ABC.
Based on the DC character created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger in 1939, “Batman” debuted in January 1966 as a twice-weekly half-hour program — 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, with the Wednesday episode ending on a cliffhanger.
West knew his life would never be the same the night the heavily promoted first episode aired.
“I stopped at the market on the way home,” he told Esquire magazine in 2004. “I thought, ‘Tonight, I just want to be alone. I’ll stop, get a steak and a six pack, whatever, then go home and watch the debut of the show.’
“As I walked through the checkout line, I heard people saying, ‘C’mon, c’mon, hurry up. “Batman” is coming on!’ And I said to myself, ‘Goodbye, anonymity.’ ”
The tongue-in-cheek series roared into public consciousness like the Batmobile out of the Batcave.
With West as the strait-laced crime fighter who spoke with what has been described as ironic earnestness and Burt Ward as his youthfully exuberant sidekick, Robin, “Batman” was a pop culture phenomenon in a decade that was full of them.
“This whole thing is an insane, mad fantasy world,” West said of the show in a Chicago Daily News interview shortly before its debut. “And my goal is to become American’s biggest put-on.”
It was high camp indeed, with fight scenes punctuated by comic book-style “POW!” “BOP!” and “WHAP!” exclamations flashing on the screen and an array of guest-star villains that included Frank Gorshin as the Riddler, Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, Cesar Romero as the Joker and Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt as Catwoman.
West quickly learned the key to slipping into the Batman persona.
“You pull on the mask and the utility belt and the gloves, and you must believe the moment that’s done that you really are Batman,” West said in a late 1980s interview on TV’s “Entertainment Tonight.”
“What I loved about Batman was his total lack of awareness when it came to his interaction with the outside world,” West told London’s Independent newspaper in 2005. “He actually believed nobody could recognize him on the phone, when he was being Bruce Wayne, even though he made no attempt to disguise his voice.”
In the first episode of the series, he recalled, “Batman goes into a nightclub in the cowl, cape and bat gloves. When the maitre d’ says: ‘Ringside table, Batman?’ he replies, ‘No thank you. I’ll stand at the bar. I would not wish to be conspicuous.’ ”
In June 1966, The Times reported that “Batman” had been a “life-transforming” success for West: Fan mail was arriving “by the wagonsful” — as were requests for everything from personal appearances to locks of his hair.
But West, The Times said, had “no panic about becoming solely and totally identified with the caped role.”
“I love doing the show, and frankly it’s given me more identification than any three movies could have,” West told The Times. “What I’ve got to feel is that if I can make a success of this characterization, I can make a success of other characterizations.”
The “Batman” series spawned a 1966 movie version and an array of merchandise, including lunchboxes, dolls and toy Batmobiles.
Both nights of “Batman” were rated in the top-10 list of shows for the 1965-66 season. But as with any fad, the show’s popularity eventually began to fade.
By the fall of 1967, the series was cut back to once a week, and it was canceled in March 1968.
Before his overnight stardom as Batman, West had made guest appearances on TV series such as “Cheyenne,” “Maverick” and “77 Sunset Strip” and had been a regular for a season on Robert Taylor’s series “The Detectives.”
He also had roles in movies such as “Tammy and the Doctor” (1963), “Robinson Crusoe on Mars” (1964) and “The Outlaws Is Coming!” (1965, opposite the Three Stooges).
But after “Batman” ended, West told Scripps Howard News Service in 2001, “It was a bleak time in my career because of typecasting in ‘Batman.’ I couldn’t get away from it.”
As he told the Orange County Register in 1989: “I was almost to the finish line for a lot of big, leading-man type roles that I really wanted, but I’d always come in second or third. Somebody in charge would always say, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing? You can’t put Batman in bed with Faye Dunaway.”
West went on to do guest shots on “Fantasy Island” and “Laverne & Shirley” and other TV shows. He also appeared in movies such as “The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker” (1971), “Hooper” (1978) and “The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood” (1980).
In 1986, he starred as the police captain in the 1986 NBC sitcom “The Last Precinct,” but the series was quickly canceled. He also voiced a few TV cartoon versions of “Batman” over the years and more recently provided the voice for Mayor Adam West in the animated comedy TV series “Family Guy.”
In time, West came to appreciate having played Batman.
“The reaction has been so positive and good for me that I love it now,” he told The Times in 2009. “How could I not? I would hate to be a bitter, aging actor. I’ve been so fortunate to have this opportunity to bring Batman alive on the screen.”
As for the newer, darker depictions of Gotham City on the big screen, West said they “are grim, Gothic, full of explosions, mayhem. It’s the way of things, I suppose; the whole world seems darker.”
But, he said, “I look at [it] this way: They’ve got ‘The Dark Knight,’ and I was the bright knight. Or maybe I was even … the neon knight.”
West is survived by his wife, Marcelle, six children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
The Associated Press reports that the family of Gene Wilder, star of film favorites such as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, has announced the actor has died at the age of 83.
Wilder was born June 11, 1933 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and studied drama at the University of Iowa and then attended the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. After a lengthy time on the stage, he made his feature film debut in 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Mel Brooks’ The Producers that same year. He would go on to star in two other high profile Brooks films, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein (for which he was also nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award with Brooks).
Wilder also dabbled in directing, helming four features, including The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, The World’s Greatest Lover, The Woman in Red, and Haunted Honeymoon. He also went on to form an on-screen partnership with fellow comedian Richard Pryor, starring in Silver Streak, Stir Crazy, See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Another You together over the course of 15 years.
The actor wrote several books, including his 2005 biography, Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art, but also several novels with his most recent being 2013’s Something to Remember You By. Wilder penned a book titled Gilda’s Disease: Sharing Personal Experiences and a Medical Perspective on Ovarian Cancer, a work in remembrance of his third wide Gilda Radner whom he met filming 1982’s Hanky Panky.
Wilder’s nephew announced the news today that the actor died late Sunday in Stamford, Connecticut from complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
The best way to honor Darwyn Cooke is to do what he did – use your gifts to make the world a better place every day. (Photo credit Joel Meadows)
From DC Comics:
Darwyn Cooke had a vision of the DC Universe that was uniquely his own, yet embraced by everyone. Once you saw his timeless designs and concepts for Batman, Catwoman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern or any other character, you immediately adopted his jubilant interpretation of these heroes as your own and wanted more. His take on the most iconic heroes in the world were breathtakingly direct and elegant, powerful and cool. His were some of the most beautiful, fun DC superhero images we have ever seen.
“Darwyn Cooke lived life like a character from a Micky Spillane novel, a throwback to a bygone era that was, more than occasionally, reflected in his work,” said DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio. “He was both compassionate and combative, approaching everything he did with a tenaciousness and temerity that is now unheard of in a world afraid to offend. The simplistic brilliance of his art and the natural flow of his storytelling not only elevated but enhanced all projects he touched and his passion and love of comics was reflected in every panel of every page. Working with Darwyn was not without its challenges. There were times we’d spend hours arguing over story then go months without talking, but we always found our way back, drawn together by the common bond and friendship comics creates. This is an industry-wide loss that I feel personally, but the sadness is mitigated in the knowing that the beauty and grace of his art will forever stand the test of time and be a monument to all that is great about comics.”
Darwyn was one of our medium’s true innovators. A gifted artist and master storyteller, Darwyn began his career as a magazine art director and graphic designer. After answering an ad placed by Warner Bros animator Bruce Timm, Darwyn entered the world of animation, where he contributed to such shows as Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series and Men In Black: The Series. From there, Darwyn made the leap into print comics, where his character design was never more effective, enduring or entrancing. It was the look and honest simplicity of his characters for which Cooke became famous—as first seen in his breakout work Batman: Ego published over 15 years ago today and then followed up by his popular and critically acclaimed work on Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score and The Spirit. Even after 15 years, Darwyn’s design for Catwoman is still the one used today in both comics and inspired the look for Catwoman on the hit TV show, Gotham.
An Eisner-award winning artist and accomplished writer, Darwyn has been a much-loved and respected member of the comics community. He lent his signature retro style to all corners of the DC Universe, from Jonah Hex to Before Watchmen to Vertigo Comic’s The Twilight Children and, of course, his master work, DC: The New Frontier. His bold, direct style, often compared to the works of Joe Kubert, Alex Toth and Jack Kirby, reflected his down to earth, no nonsense personality. Darwyn Cooke always claimed that he was a lucky man to have such a wonderful family, friends, and such a wonderful life. He lived that life with the same brilliance and fearlessness that so permeated his work. And for those of us who knew this one-of-a-kind and genuine soul, we were lucky as well.
Pop superstar Prince, widely acclaimed as one of the most inventive and influential musicians of his era with hits including “Little Red Corvette,” ”Let’s Go Crazy” and “When Doves Cry,” was found dead at his home on Thursday in suburban Minneapolis, according to his publicist. He was 57.
His publicist, Yvette Noel-Schure, told The Associated Press that the music icon died at his home in Chanhassen. No details were immediately released.
The singer, songwriter, arranger and instrumentalist broke through in the late 1970s with the hits “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” and “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” and soared over the following decade with such albums as “1999” and “Purple Rain.” The title song from “1999” includes one of the most widely quoted refrains of popular culture: “Tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999.”
The Minneapolis native, born Prince Rogers Nelson, stood just 5 feet, 2 inches tall, and seemed to summon the most original and compelling sounds at will, whether playing guitar in a flamboyant style that openly drew upon Jimi Hendrix, switching his vocals from a nasally scream to an erotic falsetto or turning out album after album of stunningly original material. Among his other notable releases: “Sign O’ the Times,” ”Graffiti Bridge” and “The Black Album.”
He was also fiercely protective of his independence, battling his record company over control of his material and even his name. Prince once wrote “slave” on his face in protest of not owning his work and famously battled and then departed his label, Warner Bros., before returning a few years ago.
“What’s happening now is the position that I’ve always wanted to be in,” Prince told the AP in 2014. “I was just trying to get here.”
In 2004, Prince was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which hailed him as a musical and social trailblazer.
“He rewrote the rulebook, forging a synthesis of black funk and white rock that served as a blueprint for cutting-edge music in the Eighties,” reads the Hall’s dedication. “Prince made dance music that rocked and rock music that had a bristling, funky backbone. From the beginning, Prince and his music were androgynous, sly, sexy and provocative.”
Rarely lacking in confidence, Price effortlessly absorbed the music of others and made it sound like Prince, whether the James Brown guitar riff on “Kiss” or the Beatle-esque, psychedelic pop of “Raspberry Beret.”
He also proved a source of hits for others, from Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” to Cyndi Lauper’s “When You Were Mine.” He also wrote “Manic Monday” for the Bangles
Prince had been touring and recording right up until his death, releasing four albums in the last 18 months, including two on the Tidal streaming service last year. He performed in Atlanta last week as part of his “Piano and a Microphone” tour, a stripped down show that has featured a mix of his hits like “Purple Rain” or “Little Red Corvette” and some B-sides from his extensive library.
Prince debuted the intimate format at his Paisley Park studios in January, treating fans to a performance that was personal and was both playful and emotional at times.
The musician had seemed to be shedding his reclusive reputation. He hosted several late-night jam sessions where he serenaded Madonna, celebrated the Minnesota Lynx’s WNBA championship and showcased his latest protege, singer Judith Hill.
Ever surprising, he announced on stage in New York City last month that he was writing his memoir. “The Beautiful Ones” was expected to be released in the fall of 2017 by publishing house Spiegel & Grau. The publishing house has not yet commented on status of book, but a press release about the memoir says: “Prince will take readers on an unconventional and poetic journey through his life and creative work.” It says the book will include stories about Prince’s music and “the family that shaped him and the people, places, and ideas that fired his creative imagination.”
Yvonne Craig, the sexy actress who originated the role as the high-kicking crime fighter Batgirl on the iconic 1960s ABC series Batman, has died. She was 78.
A former ballerina, Craig died Monday night at her home in Pacific Palisades, her nephew, Christopher Carson, announced. The cause was breast cancer that had metastasized to her liver, he said.
Craig also was known for playing Marta, an insane green Orion Slave Girl who wanted to kill Captain Kirk (William Shatner), in a 1969, third-season Star Trek episode, “Whom Gods Destroy.”
Craig joined Batman for its third season and final season (1967-68) as Batgirl/librarian Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Gotham City Police Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton).
Batman producer William Dozier, for whom she had done an unsold sitcom pilot years earlier, called and asked her if she would come in for an interview, she once recalled.
“When I got there, he said, ‘We’re thinking of adding a new character to the Batman series — Batgirl. Would you be interested in doing it?’ I said, ‘Very!’ ”
Craig said they put her character on the show “because they needed someone who could encourage an over-40 male audience and a prepubescent female audience. That’s the real reason why they hired me!”
Craig did all of her own stunts and all of her motorcycle riding on the show. Her leatherette-clad character accessed her sleek Batgirl Cycle from an old, unused elevator that was hidden behind a revolving wall in her apartment and led to the street below.
On the series, only the Wayne butler Alfred (Alan Napier) knew her secret identity — not even Batman (Adam West) or Robin (Burt Ward).
Batman was an immediate sensation when it debuted in January 1966 but ran out of steam by the time Craig joined the series for its final 26 episodes.
The dark-haired beauty, a native of Taylorville, Ill., began her theatrical career at age 17 as the youngest member of The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. She traveled the U.S. and was with the troupe for three years when she was discovered by director John Ford’s son Patrick and cast for the lead in the movie The Young Land (1959).
She then starred opposite Elvis Presley in the films It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963) and Kissin’ Cousins (1964). The two dated for a spell.
Her film résumé also included The Gene Krupa Story (1959), John Sturges’ By Love Possessed (1961), 7 Women From Hell (1961) — with future Joker villain Cesar Romero — Ski Party (1965) and Mars Needs Women (1967).
On television, she appeared on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Fantasy Island, The Six Million Dollar Man, Kojak, Land of the Giants, Mod Squad, The Wild Wild West, Emergency! and many other shows.
Most recently, she provided the voice of Grandma in the 2009 cartoon series Olivia for Nickelodeon, served as executive producer for the documentary feature BIRTH and worked as a real estate broker.
Yvonne and her sister, Meridel, went into the prepaid phone card business at its inception, producing phone cards as fundraisers for many charitable organizations as well as promotional phone cards for the 1995 Paramount film Clueless — starring Alicia Silverstone, who played Batgirl in 1997’s Batman & Robin. They also did Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny cards for Warner Bros. stores, her nephew noted.
In 2000, she wrote a memoir, From Ballet to the Batcave and Beyond.
In addition to her sister and nephew, survivors include her husband, Kenneth, and another nephew, Todd. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to The Angeles Clinic Foundation.
Author Richard Matheson has passed away at the age of 87 at his home in Calabasas, California his family announced in a private Facebook post Monday.
Matheson’s novels include iconic works like I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man, What Dreams May Come, Hell House and A Stir of Echoes while his short story output has been adapted as everything from episodes of “The Twilight Zone” to the recent big screen sci-fi tale Real Steel. Among his countless contributions to genre storytelling, Matheson penned the original “Star Trek” episode “The Enemy Within” and supplied the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s early telefilm Duel.
Matheson, who was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2010, inspired many of the major names in science fiction, fantasy and horror writing. The 1995 reprint of “I Am Legend” featured praise from Ray Bradbury, “Psycho” author Robert Bloch, and Stephen King, who called Matheson “the author who influenced me the most as a writer.” King’s 2006 novel, “Cell,” is dedicated to Matheson.
“We’ve lost one of the giants of the fantasy and horror genres. From The Beardless Warriors, his brilliant (and largely unread) World War II novel, to The Incredible Shrinking Man and all the wonderful Twilight Zone scripts and stories, Matheson fired the imaginations of three generations of writers. Without his I Am Legend, there would have been no Night of The Living Dead; without Night of The Living Dead, there would have been no Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, or World War Z.
Matheson wrote the script for Steven Spielberg’s extraordinary film, Duel, and created one of the most brain-freezingly frightening haunted house novels of the 20th century in Hell House. He fired my imagination by placing his horrors not in European castles and Lovecraftian universes, but in American scenes I knew and could relate to. “I want to do that,” I thought. “I must do that.” Matheson showed the way. In addition to that, he was a gentleman who was always willing to give a young writer a hand up. I will miss his kindness and erudition. He lived a full life, raised a fine family, and gave us unforgettable stories, novels, TV shows, and movies. That’s good. Nevertheless,
I mourn his loss. A uniquely American voice has been silenced.”
The family of Ray Harryhausen has announced that he has died at the age of 92. Ray Harryhausen is well regarded as a pioneer in the stop-motion animation world, known for creating a technique called Dynamation.
Here’s the statement from his family:
Raymond Frederick Harryhausen Born: Los Angeles 29th June 1920 Died: London 7th May 2013.
The Harryhausen family regret to announce the death of Ray Harryhausen, Visual Effects pioneer and stop-motion model animator. He was a multi-award winner which includes a special Oscar and BAFTA. Ray’s influence on today’s film makers was enormous, with luminaries; Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, George Lucas, John Landis and the UK’s own Nick Park have cited Harryhausen as being the man whose work inspired their own creations.
Harryhausen’s fascination with animated models began when he first saw Willis O’Brien’s creations in King Kong with his boyhood friend, the author Ray Bradbury in 1933, and he made his first foray into filmmaking in 1935 with home-movies that featured his youthful attempts at model animation. Over the period of the next 46 years, he made some of the genres best known movies – Mighty Joe Young (1949), It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955), 20 Million Miles To Earth (1957), Mysterious Island (1961), One Million Years B.C. (1966), The Valley of Gwangi (1969), three films based on the adventures of Sinbad and Clash of The Titans (1981). He is perhaps best remembered for his extraordinary animation of seven skeletons in Jason and The Argonauts (1963) which took him three months to film.
Harryhausen’s genius was in being able to bring his models alive. Whether they were prehistoric dinosaurs or mythological creatures, in Ray’s hands they were no longer puppets but became instead characters in their own right, just as important as the actors they played against and in most cases even more so.
Today The Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation, a charitable Trust set up by Ray on the 10th April 1986, is devoted to the protection of Ray’s name and body of work as well as archiving, preserving and restoring Ray’s extensive Collection.